In many real estate markets (including the one where I’m currently shopping), the agent’s commission is equal to a fixed percentage of the sale price. (Typically it’s 6%, though this is split evenly between the buyer’s and seller’s agents, each of whom gives a cut to their respective agencies, so either agent’s take-home is more on the order of 2%).
This means that if you sell a million-dollar house, you earn TEN TIMES the commission of your identical twin who sold a hundred-thousand-dollar house, though I doubt very much that you did ten times the work or bore ten times the expense.
Now, plenty of hundred-thousand-dollar houses are being sold, which means that plenty of agents are settling for the relatively dinky commissions. Question: Why are those agents not attempting to steal some of the high-end business by offering to accept a smaller percentage? After all, 1% of a million is still a lot more than 2% of a hundred thousand.
You might say that the agencies collude to restrain them — but what stops a rogue agency from busting the cartel?
All too many times in my life, I’ve noticed some apparently anomalous behavior which I’ve challenged myself and/or others to explain with the tools of game theory, axiomatic bargaining theory, and the theory of markets — only to discover that the true explanation is “It’s required by law”. (Of course one can always step a little further back and try using economics to explain the advent of the law.) But I don’t think that’s the case here. (I’m prepared to be wrong about this, though.)
So what’s going on? I see something that looks a lot like a competitive labor market where different workers receive substantially different wages for doing pretty much the same thing. Economic theory says that under very general circumstances, that can’t happen. Why is this market different from all other markets?